NASA has always used the desert as its own personal playground, and we'd imagine that its team had a blast in Arizona yesterday, as a mock parachute compartment of the Orion spacecraft was dropped from 25,000 feet above Earth. The dart-shaped object experienced free fall for 5,000 feet, at which point, drogue chutes were deployed at 20,000 feet. This was then followed by pilot chutes, which then activated the main chutes. As you'd imagine, these things are monsters: the main parachutes -- three in all -- each measure 116 feet wide and weigh more than 300 pounds. Better yet, the mission was successful.
Naturally, all of this is in preparation for Orion's first test flight -- currently scheduled for 2014 -- where the unmanned craft will travel 15 times further than the ISS and jam through space at 20,000 mph before returning to Earth. Yesterday's outing is merely one in a series of drop tests, and yes, it's important to remove any unknowns from the situation: eventually, humans will be along for the ride.